Versailles, Sep 13 (AP/UNB) — French President Emmanuel Macron and Crown Prince Naruhito, Japan's next emperor, made a toast to continued friendship between their nations Wednesday in the sumptuous surroundings of the Chateau of Versailles.
Macron and his wife, Brigitte, hosted an official dinner for Naruhito, who began a nine-day goodwill visit to France over the weekend. The dinner marked a showpiece moment of the prince's trip.
During a pre-dinner speech dwelling on the dense web of connections and history that tie France and Japan, Macron said hosting the prince at Versailles showed the "respect, esteem and friendship we have for Japan."
Macron recalled previous visits made to France by the prince's father, Emperor Akihito.
"France hasn't forgotten, just as it won't forget your visit," he said.
Macron and Naruhito also attended a theater performance at the glittering palace west of Paris.
The 58-year-old prince will inherit Japan's Chrysanthemum throne when the 84-year-old emperor abdicates next year.
Naruhito's visit marks 160 years of diplomatic relations between France and Japan.
Washington, Sep 13 (AP/UNB)— The Pentagon says Russia will bear responsibility for the resulting humanitarian crisis in Syria if the Moscow-backed Syrian military attacks the northern city of Idlib.
Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman, says the U.S. and its allies are concerned about the deadly consequences if Syrian President Bashar Assad, with support from Russia and Iran, launches an offensive against Idlib, the last major rebel stronghold in Syria. Government forces have been massing troops near the city, and Russia and Syria have launched airstrikes on Idlib for weeks.
Pahon says the U.S. questions the continued presence of more than a dozen Russian warships in the Mediterranean Sea near Syria. He says the ships must operate safely and abide by international law.
Turkey has called for a cease-fire, but Russia and Iran rejected the plan.
Skopje, Sep 13 (AP/UNB) — Western leaders have scheduled more visits to Macedonia ahead of an upcoming referendum that would change the country's name and get it fast-tracked for NATO membership.
European Union foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell plan to be there Thursday.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has a weekend stop planned. The referendum on changing the country's name to North Macedonia is scheduled for Sept. 30.
If voters back the new name, Greece has agreed to stop blocking Macedonia from joining NATO. The Macedonia name has been a source of tension between the neighboring nations for decades.
Greece has a region named Macedonia, and said the use of the same name by the small former Yugoslav republic to its north could imply a claim to the territory and ancient heritage of the Greek province.
The Macedonian government, led by center-left Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, launched its referendum campaign earlier this week, urging people to support the new name. Zaev negotiated the agreement with the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
Macedonia's conservative opposition vehemently opposes the agreement with Greece, saying it was a national humiliation.
The opposition leader, Hristijan Mickoski, reiterated those objections Wednesday but told supporters to vote "with their conscience."
Westerns governments have been vocal in their support of the deal. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were in Macedonia's capital, Skopje, last week to urge voters to support the name change.
At a Pentagon briefing Tuesday, Defense Secretary Mattis told reporters he was concerned about alleged acts of "mischief" by Russia to try to block Macedonia's path to NATO membership.
Russia denies claims of interference, but openly opposes NATO expansion eastward.
Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci endorsed the "yes" campaign at a meeting with Zaev, saying the referendum was "an historic moment that needs to be seized."
Manila, Sep 13 (AP/UNB) — The most powerful typhoon of the season is closing in on the northern Philippines, where officials ordered precautionary evacuations and closures of schools and offices and urged farmers to quickly harvest their crops to reduce damage.
Forecasters said Typhoon Mangkhut, considered as the strongest this year, could hit northern Cagayan province on Saturday. It was located about 800 kilometers (500 miles) away in the Pacific with sustained winds of 265 kilometers (165 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 325 kph (201 mph). It could maintain the strength of a super typhoon when it hits land in the northeastern corner of Luzon Island.
On Guam, residents woke up Tuesday to flooded streets, downed trees and widespread power outages after Mangkhut passed through overnight.
The Pacific Daily News reported government agencies were conducting damage assessments and beginning to clear roads. About 80 percent of the U.S. territory was without power but it was restored by Thursday morning.
With a massive rain band 900 kilometers (560 miles) wide, combined with seasonal monsoon rains, the storm could bring heavy to intense rains that could set off landslides and flash floods, Philippine state forecaster Meno Mendoza said.
Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba said by telephone that northern coastal and island villages in the typhoon's projected path will begin evacuating residents on Thursday ahead of the expected onslaught. He said classes will be suspended and offices, except those involved in rescue and relief work, advised to close on Friday.
In 2016, a super typhoon lashed the southern section of Cagayan, destroying tens of thousands of houses. Mangkhut is blowing from the Pacific and forecast to directly slam the province's northeastern coastal and island municipalities, Mamba said.
"I'm stressing that this one is very different, this is more complicated because of possible storm surges," Mamba said, referring to giant waves whipped inland by a typhoon.
The typhoon is arriving at the start of the rice and corn harvest season in Cagayan, a major agricultural producer, and farmers were scrambling to save what they could of their crops, Mamba said. The Philippines has been trying to cope with rice shortages.
Office of Civil Defense chief Ricardo Jalad said other northern provinces will also start evacuating residents from low-lying areas on Thursday.
"The worst cases are those areas which will be directly hit by strong winds that can topple houses, storm surges and heavy rains that can cause flooding, and there may be landslides in higher areas," Jalad told reporters.
A missile test aboard a navy ship to be attended by President Rodrigo Duterte off northern Bataan province was canceled due to the approaching typhoon.
After leaving the Philippines, the fast-moving storm is expected to blow toward Hong Kong and southern China on Sunday if it maintains its course, forecasters said.
Mangkhut is the 15th storm this year to batter the Philippines, which is hit by about 20 a year and is considered one of the world's most disaster-prone countries. Typhoon Haiyan left more than 7,300 people dead or missing and displaced over 5 million in the central Philippines in 2013.
London, Sep 12 (AP/UNB) — Leading Brexit-supporting lawmakers insisted Wednesday that they aren't about to topple Prime Minister Theresa May, despite strong opposition to her plan for taking Britain out of the European Union.
A faction of May's Conservative Party opposes her proposal to keep the U.K. aligned to EU rules after Brexit in return for free trade in goods. They say that would keep Britain tethered to the bloc and unable to strike new trade deals around the world.
Several dozen rebel lawmakers have discussed attempting to trigger a no-confidence vote in May in hope of replacing her with a strongly pro-Brexit politician such as former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a fierce critic of May's Brexit blueprint.
But pro-Brexit Environment Secretary Michael Gove said Wednesday that speculation about a leadership challenge is just "loose talk."
He said May is doing a "great job at the moment."
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis, who quit the government in July over differences with May, said she is a "very good" prime minister who "should stay in place because we need stability."
Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, but divorce talks have foundered amid Conservative divisions over how close a relationship to seek with the bloc.
Hopes are fading that Britain and the EU can strike a deal at an EU summit in October as originally planned, but there are growing expectations that the EU is planning another meeting for November.
EU leaders have issued encouraging statements recently, saying a deal is possible in the next two months if both sides are realistic.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Wednesday that EU negotiators "stand ready to work day and night to reach a deal."
"I welcome Prime Minister May's proposal to develop an ambitious new partnership for the future after Brexit," Juncker said during a speech in Strasbourg.
But a deal is far from done, and the U.K. has stepped up planning for a "no-deal" Brexit, which could disrupt trade, transport and other sectors of the economy. The chief executive of automaker Jaguar Land Rover on Tuesday called a no-deal Brexit a "horrifying" scenario that could cost tens of thousands of jobs.
Conservative opponents of May's "Chequers" plan — named for the country-house retreat where it was drawn up — are trying to show they have an alternative proposal for breaking free of the EU.
The "hard Brexit"-supporting European Research Group on Wednesday published its plan for solving one of the thorniest outstanding issues — the border between the U.K.'s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. Britain and the EU both say there must be no customs posts or other infrastructure along the currently invisible frontier, but they have not agreed on how that can happen once the U.K. leaves the bloc's tariff-free customs union.
The Brexit-backing group said technology and "trusted trader" programs could remove the need for border posts, and a U.K-EU agreement on common biosecurity standards would allow the smooth movement of agricultural products.
"It can all be done electronically," said lawmaker Owen Paterson, a former Northern Ireland secretary. "There is absolutely no need for new physical infrastructure at the border."
Critics said the EU has already rejected similar measures as inadequate to protect the open border, a cornerstone of Northern Ireland's peace process.
Josh Hardie, deputy director-general of business group the Confederation of British Industry, said the proposals were "too superficial to be of use in practice."
Robert Hannigan, former director of Britain's GCHQ intelligence agency, said Wednesday that a hard border would lead to a rise in smuggling, increase tensions between Irish nationalists and pro-British unionists and "fray around the edges of the peace process."
"So it's a very unhealthy development," Hannigan told the BBC.